Posted by Harry de Quetteville on 25 Oct 2007 at 14:51 Telegraph
Kosovo is bubbling up again. It's easy to write it off as a grim wasteland of economic gloom, bureaucratic stagnation and seemingly the world's entire collection of discarded plastic bags.
But it's worth remembering that this is in the centre of Europe, a two and a half flight from London. There are still 17,000 NATO soldiers there, keeping the peace. Come December they might really have to start earning their corn.
December 10th is the deadline for the last, of last ditch, final (honestly) talks between Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership to sort out a future for the place.
You will remember that though ethnically Kosovo is 9/10ths Albanian, it is a province of Serbia. And a cherished province at that. Kosovo separatist and Serb forces dispatched by Slobodan Milosevic fought a war there in 1999 until NATO jumped in and drove out the Serbs.
Since then it’s been administered mostly by the UN. And nothing has happened, nothing has changed. The Serbs are willing to let Kosovo be autonomous, the ethnic Albanians want nothing short of independence. There is no deal.
What is the difference between autonomy and independence? Not a huge amount, but, crucially, combustible notions like pride, history, and nationhood.
The ramifications of failure are huge.
A poll this week suggests Serbia's government will collapse over Kosovo. Now the current Serbian government, filled with 'moderate hardliners' (I love that phrase) like Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica may not seem very appetising. But it is a lot better than the hardline hardliners, like Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the Radical party.
To give you a sense of nationalist sentiment in Serbia, The Radicals won elections earlier this year. It's the biggest party, but isn’t in power because it couldn't form a majority government. Nikolic is only in charge because official leader Vojislav Šešelj is in the Hague charged with war crimes.
Then there is Russia, which backs its traditional ally Serbia in wanting to keep Kosovo. Earlier this week a Russian diplomat said that independence for Kosovo would set a "precedent" which could see Abkhazia and South Ossetia break away from rival Georgia.
Instability in the Balkans and instability in the Caucasus can be a recipe for hundreds of thousands of deaths.
So hold on to your hat. Kosovo may seem boring now, as the diplomats shuttle around for yet more negotiations. But it might get pretty interesting soon.